In a conversation with Porter Anderson over the weekend, Porter asked me about one of the risks of digitization – loss.
And I responded that, as with any disruption, there will be loss. Some work does not meet the migration test – for one reason or another, it never gets brought along in the cultural evolution. Perhaps it can’t be relied upon to generate enough value to warrant its transformation to another medium. Perhaps conversion will destroy it, making it impossible to save. Perhaps it’s revolutionary work that isn’t safe to broadcast to a wider audience.
At first, this work is the province of publishers, deciding what makes the cut for conversion to new formats. Secondarily, it becomes the province of librarians, who cull and curate, preserve and archive. And, in a tertiary fashion, this work becomes that of scholars – graduate students, researchers, archaeologists, professors – rediscovering that which has been very successfully lost and re-evaluating it in new contexts.
Lost work is an aftermarket - with all its inherent risks. There are benefits to it as well, though – rediscovery brings about new ideas, new work, new products.
Once there is mention of something on the Internet, however, it’s hard to squelch it. Rediscovery becomes a bit easier because of the persistence of the web. So I am a bit sanguine about loss. I think that, increasingly, we won’t be talking about the concept of loss so much as we will be talking about the concept of obscurity. A matter of degree, perhaps – inasmuch as the difference between “off” and “quiet” is a matter of degree. It may be difficult to hear in both cases, but at least if the signal is quiet, you can nonetheless get to it and amplify it.